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6 Hard Truths About Volunteering Abroad That No One Will Tell You

6 Hard Truths About Volunteering Abroad That No One Will Tell You

When you want to travel and do some charity work at the same time, volunteering abroad seems to be the best option. It’s also a great option for students who want to travel but are short on money. The prospect of traveling cheap and helping people is very seductive, so before you know it, you may find yourself teaching English in South America or helping medical staff in an AIDS clinic in Africa. On paper it’s all nice, but the harsh reality might be way too much for you. When I traveled to Romania to help children in remote villages in the Carpathian mountains, I wasn’t ready for what I found. Here are the hard truths no one is telling you about volunteering abroad.

1. Fundraising is an important part of volunteering abroad

When you sign up to volunteer abroad, you need to know these organizations need both your work and money. This is why fundraising is mandatory in most cases. Before you leave, the organization may ask you to raise some funds to validate your spot among the volunteers. Some organizations will ask you to fundraise while volunteering.

There are some organizations which can cover the cost of your accommodations because they get help from locals who volunteer to shelter people who come to help them.

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However, you need to make sure the money you are raising is going to the right places, so ask the organization how they will use the money you send. The right answers are for providing food, equipment, and supplies for volunteers like you and the locals. Another thing you’ll want to research before sending the money is if the actions taken by the organization are ethical and really help the local communities. Unfortunately, there are places where volunteers do more harm than good.

2. Find the right volunteer program for you

I am not the person to build houses — my skills in crafting are limited to understanding the difference between a nail and a hammer. However, I do have excellent communication skills and I know how to attract kids and make them listen to me. So, I went on and worked with kids during my volunteering abroad experience.

Picking the right volunteer program for you is essential because not all programs are a good fit for your abilities. Before you enrol in a program, make sure you are a good candidate. You may want to work as a nurse, but if you become sick from seeing blood, this is not the right position for you.

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3. Your volunteer work is not an employment guarantee

After working as a volunteer in an organization, there is no guarantee someone will actually hire you or will help you extend your visa. Yes, these things happen, but they happen to a small number of volunteers, so don’t rely on this. All you can do is dedicate yourself to your work and connect with as many organizations, businesses, and people as you can.

4. It will be bad

Now comes the really hard part of this article: volunteering abroad is not all smiles and cocktails — it will have a bad side! When you arrive at your site, you may be greeted by the poorest, illest-looking person you’ve ever seen in your life. Disease and a lack of the basic features of a home, such as tap water and medicines, are going to shock you. Then you will have to face the realities of surviving a couple of months sleeping in tiny huts or dorms, eating the same food every day. Volunteering is going to show you just how weak you are, but also how strong you are. On your first day, you won’t even be able to look at the dirty, emaciated people around you; on your last day, you will look straight into their eyes.

5. The problems will be worse than you’ve imagined

Many volunteers start their adventure abroad thinking they will go there and eradicate any trace of disease, poverty, and illiteracy in the area. The reality is more cruel than this sweet dream: you won’t make a hugely significant difference! Your volunteering abroad time is only going to help a couple of poor kids learn how to say “thank you” in English. Or perhaps you will help a mother with AIDS deliver a healthy baby. You won’t change the world nor the local community, but the small changes still mean something.

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6. Volunteering abroad will make you feel useless

Because you will discover a new world, where nothing is like you’ve seen in pictures or on TV, volunteering abroad will make you feel useless. Most of the time, you will be “just a volunteer” who will be sent to bring a bucket of water or left out of important matters, because you will leave in couple of weeks. This will make your feelings of uselessness even worse, but you need to be firm and positive. Focus on what you can do and learn to love it! If you work with people, try to ignore their coolness and do your job well. They will learn to love you!

Empowering, fulfilling, and amazing – this is real-life volunteering!

Volunteering abroad can be an empowering, fulfilling, and amazing experience, but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Make sure you stay realistic about your new adventure and do as much research as you can so you won’t be taken by surprise when you land in a remote area.

When you are faced with the hard truth of volunteering, you will discover a side of your personality you never knew you had. You will learn how strong you are, even if you end up crying every day for the first two weeks.

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Volunteering abroad, regardless where and how you do it, is going to leave a strong mark on you. Some day, despite the hard stuff, you might even want to do it all over again.

Featured photo credit: Visions Service Adventures/Flickr via flickr.com

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Last Updated on October 15, 2018

Why Am I So Tired? 10 Reasons You’re Extremely Tired And How to Fix It

Why Am I So Tired? 10 Reasons You’re Extremely Tired And How to Fix It

“Why am I so tired?” is a question that people ask themselves pretty frequently. Everyone gets tired at one point or another, particularly after something like an illness, a long night up with a sick child, or a busy week at work. When tiredness is persistent, however — when you feel tired as soon as you wake up in morning or when sleep doesn’t seem to help, no matter how much rest you get— it may often indicate a deeper, underlying problem.

While there are a lot of possible reasons for tiredness, here’re some of the most common causes of fatigue:

1. Dehydration

If you want to boost your energy levels, first check whether you are dehydrated. The human brain is 85% water, and needs to maintain this level in order to perform its essential functions.

If you fail to drink enough water, the brain extracts fluids from your blood to compensate for the deficit. As a result, the oxygen levels in your blood drop, reducing the amount of energising oxygen available to your organs and tissues. Fatigue and sleepiness set in rapidly, leaving you more vulnerable to the 2 pm post-lunch crash that many of us experience.

You cannot cure this crash with caffeine – the only long-term, effective solution is to drink hydrating fluids throughout the day.

2. Lack Of Exercise

A workout will surely leave you feeling even more tired, right? Wrong! As counterintuitive as it may sound, physical activities have an energizing effect. Moving your body releases endorphins, increases your heart rate, and boosts your concentration.

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Try to fit in at least 30 minutes of medium-intensity exercise every day. It’s easiest if you can make this part of our everyday routine, either as soon as you wake up or right after work.

3. A Poor Diet

The food you eat has a direct impact on sleep quality and the amount of rest you get every night. For maximum energy, stick to protein, slow-release carbohydrates, and a moderate amount of healthy (unsaturated) fats. The majority of your food should be plant-based, high in fiber, and low in sugar. These choices will prevent blood sugar fluctuations, which can leave you feeling exhausted.

An easy way to make sure you stick to a good diet is through meal preparation. It’s easy to just get take-out when you’re tired after work, but if you have a meal ready for you in the fridge, you’ll be less tempted by pizza or cheese.

Find out more about healthy meal prep here: 10 Meal Planning Apps You Need To Have To Get Healthier Easily

4. Skipping Breakfast

Physician Dr. Nerina Ramlakhan advises that eating breakfast is key to maintaining a good level of energy throughout the day. When you eat breakfast, you are sending calming signals to the areas of the brain responsible for avoiding danger, along with those that instruct the body to conserve as much energy as possible.

Ingesting food signals to your brain that there is enough food available to ensure our survival. This encourages it to stay relaxed, which in turn, promotes restful sleep.

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Some great ideas for a healthy, filling, and make-ahead breakfasts include overnight oats, smoothies, and freezer-friendly breakfast burritos.

Or if meal-prepping isn’t your think, stock up on easy but healthy breakfast foods like multigrain cereal, yogurt, and fruit: 20 Healthy Breakfast Choices That Will Save You Time

5. Poor Quality Of Sleep

We all know that it’s important to wind down a couple of hours before bed. But did you know that it’s what you do throughout the day that promotes good-quality sleep? It’s not just about the number of hours you sleep, but how restful and deep that sleep is.

TO feel rested, try to regulate your everyday routine to make your sleep deeper and better. Get up at a regular time in the morning to ensure that you get regular sunlight.

Eat nutritious foods in moderate amounts, and make sure you stay hydrated. Go to bed at the same time. And before bedtime, avoid screens that can give off harmful blue light and also keep you stimulated when you need to prepare for a restful night.

Read more about how to develop a routine that will get you better sleep: Poor Sleep Quality Comes from All the Things You Do Since Morning

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6. Sleep Apnea (A Person’s Airways Get Blocked off While They Are Asleep)

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder where a person’s airways get blocked off while they are asleep, causing their oxygen levels to drop while they are asleep. This often causes people to stop breathing at night and then to jerk themselves awake (this can happen over 30 times an hour).

Because of this, people with sleep apnea can feel short of breath and have low energy levels. Mouthpieces and other devices to aid in breathing as well as the use of a special breathing machine to keep oxygen levels in a safe zone.

If you feel tired all the time and think you might have sleep apnea, consulting with a doctor is important. Do a sleep study, as this can often reveal if there is an underlying problem causing your tiredness — and once a diagnosis is made, treatment to help you get your energy back begins.

7. Depression

Depression is the most common mental health disorder in the United States (and in many other countries of the world as well). It is marked by persistent feelings of sadness or unhappiness but has physical symptoms, too. Apart from fatigue, people may also experience changes in sleeping and eating habits and difficulty concentrating.

Treatment can often center on anti-depressants, counselling and lifestyle changes like stress management to help manage this condition. You can take a look at these 15 Ways To Overcome Depression And Sadness.

Many people also benefit from activities like yoga and meditation, which help regulate both the body and mind.

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8. Hypothyroidism

If a person has hypothyroidism, their thyroid gland does not produce adequate levels of these important hormones— and the result can be a persistent and unrelenting fatigue, even if someone is getting enough sleep. Other common symptoms of this disorder include mood swings, weight gain and feeling cold all the time.

Fortunately, simple blood work can reveal if there is a problem and it can be treated with artificial thyroid hormone pills like Synthroid. Check here for signs of having a thyroid problem. If you suspect that you might have hypothyroidism, talk to your doctor.

9. Anemia

People with anemia are not able to make enough red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the their bodies. This is often due to a lack of nutrients like iron or B-12 and can be caused by problems such as heavy periods, bleeding in the digestive tract or pregnancy (due to the increased demands of the growing baby).

However, in most cases, this can be resolved with treatments like changes in diet, iron supplements or B-12 shots.

While here are some drinks you can try to relieve symptoms of Anemia, it’s best to do a blood test and consult your doctor in case of any hidden medical conditions.

10. Cancer

While you shouldn’t be freaking out about cancer just because you are tired, it is a fact that fatigue is one of the symptoms of cancer. Other common symptoms can include unexplained weight loss and the presence of palpable lumps or growths. This disease is marked by the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells that can do damage to surround tissues and possibly spread to other parts of the body.

Diagnosis is usually by biopsy and treatment often focusses on radiation, chemotherapy or surgery— and generally when a diagnosis is made early, the outcomes for the patient are better.

Featured photo credit: Lily Banse via unsplash.com

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